Tag Archives: humanity

Open your Heart

A dear friend sent me a link to an interesting TED talk on love and relationships given by Mandy Len Catron. The theme of love and relationships had already been playing on my mind.

After watching the clip, I confessed to my friend that I long to share intimacy and affection with someone of the male variety. I quickly added that I’m just feeling impatient and that I should simply be present.

My friend replied: “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have a special connection with a man. What you mustn’t do is ever make yourself feel bad because that want is there. It’s human nature.” It was nice to read her words.

Mandy Len Catron’s TED talk came about because Mandy, in the midst of a breakup, turned to science to better understand love. While researching the workings of the heart, Mandy discovered a study undertaken by psychologist Arthur Aron 20 years ago.

The study involved having two strangers ask and answer a series of 36 questions designed to make the participants fall in love. Six months later, the participants were married.

One evening, Mandy described Arthur Aron’s study to a university acquaintance. He proposed that they put the questions to the test. And they promptly fell in love!

Mandy went on to write an article about her experience for The New York Times. Since then, she has received endless calls and emails from people who all want to know one thing: Are Mandy and her university acquaintance still together? And the answer is that they are.

This may seem like the happy ending that we’re all hoping for. But what Mandy learned from this incredible experience is that there is no happy ending. There is no ending.

Falling in love is the easy part. The challenge lies in the decision to continue loving each other through the good and the difficult times. The hard part is to allow yourself be vulnerable and to give your heart to someone who may or may not choose to love you back.

These are the parts of love that many single people forget about when we crave a relationship. We want the smiles and the glances, the cuddles and the kisses, the electricity of attraction and the rush of romance.

However, closeness with a partner can really trigger you and bring all your issues to the surface. The choice then is to succumb to the temptation to close your heart and retreat (or defend) or you can deal with these issues and expand, both as a human being and as a couple.

It’s exciting and scary to open your heart to another human being. Being loved can make you feel blissful and secure one moment and out of control the next.

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Today, I told another friend about all of this. She excitedly suggested that we ask one another the 36 questions. “Imagine if we fell in love,” she laughed.

My friend and I answered all 36 of Arthur Aron’s questions. The questions encouraged us to share our life stories, embarrassing incidents, favourite memories, fears, problems and dreams. We were also invited to tell each other what we liked about one another.

Did we fall in love? I can honestly say that my heart was bursting by the end of the exercise. In truth, my friend and I already love one another.

However, this exercise highlighted how much we have in common and how much we value our friendship. Being let into my friend’s life in this way deepened my love for her. Answering these questions also reminded me of how far I’ve come, how great my life is and how wonderful I am.

How do a series of questions make people fall in love? I believe that these questions inspire you to share yourself with another human being openly and honestly. This vulnerability allows someone to get to know the real you. And this can greatly speed up the falling in love process.

I’d definitely recommend completing this exercise, preferably with someone dishy. It may just make you fall in love – with your friend, your partner, or an attractive stranger. It may also make you fall in love with your journey, with your life, and with you, the real you.

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Great-Great Advice

I’m going to share with you a brief but worthwhile exercise from Prof Steve Peters’ book The Chimp Paradox: The Mind Management Programme for Confidence, Success and Happiness.

 Imagine you are 100 years old and on your death-bed with one minute left to live. Your great-great-grandchild asks, ‘Before you die, tell me what I should do with my life.’

Pause for a moment and try to immediately and honestly answer this question. You have just one minute.

Answering this question, according to Prof Steve Peters, will identify what is important to you. It is what life is all about for you. It is your ‘Life Force’.

Whatever your advice was for your great-great-grandchild is really the advice you need to hear. If you’re not living by this advice, which is the essence of your existence, you are living a lie.

“Don’t live a lie,” urges Prof Steve Peters because, “it will unsettle you more than anything else.”

My advice for my great-great-grandchild is to: “Be happy and really really live your life.”

So how can one be happy?

On Friday night, I watched a movie called Hector and the Search for Happiness. This uplifting film is about a psychiatrist who takes himself on a journey around the globe to research what makes people happy.

Without giving too much away, Hector discovers that happiness shouldn’t be the end-goal of the things we do. Rather, we should do the things we like to do and then happiness will emerge as a pleasant side-effect.

One of the most common barriers to happiness that Hector diagnoses is the destructive habit of making comparisons. When we believe that others are happier, more successful and better looking than us, we fail to feel content where we are. We ignore all the positives that are right there in front of us, waiting to be appreciated.

It’s simple really. Happiness is a choice. Do the things that bring you happiness, and appreciate and enjoy all that you have and all that you are.

The second part of my message to my great-great-grandchild is to really really live life. Are we not already living our lives seen as we are alive, you ask? Yes, of course we are. But there’s a difference between living and really really living. And I want to really really live my life.

Really really living means getting out there to experience, explore, learn, grow and expand. It means being present to beauty, to nature and to love.

It’s in the sharing and connecting with other human beings and with all living things. It’s in the embracing and supporting. It’s in our tears and in our laughter.

It’s when we dance, sing, hike and swim. It’s in inspiring and being inspired. This for me is really really living.

Am I following my own advice? Am I being happy and really really living? For the most part, yes. Then sometimes, I compare. I think too much. I worry. I complain.

I wish things were different and I turn my back on the abundance that’s right here right now. I shut myself into a safe, boring, compact box and forget that there’s a glimmering world out there and I can do anything. Anything.

And then somehow life reminds me that it wants to be really really lived. And I thoroughly agree.

What advice would you give your great-great grandchild? Are you practising what you preach? If not, listen to yourself. You’re a wise one!

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Marvellous Man Menu

Recently, somebody told me that he made a list of all the qualities he’d like in a romantic partner. Then he whittled it down to 20 characteristics, which he decided would be non-negotiable. A few weeks later, he met a woman who embodied everything on his list. And now she’s his girlfriend.

Hours later, I made my own list. At first, I jotted down all the qualities I’d like in a partner. Then I decided upon 20 characteristics that my partner would need to have.

Moments after making the list, I was already clearer about what I want. My mind flitted to a few guys who have been hovering on the outskirts of my romantic horizon. Immediately, I realised that none of them are the right man for me.

Reliable and Confident are two of the qualities on my list. One of the men is unreliable. Another is insecure. Having either of these men as a partner would probably drive me to distraction.

If I’d made the list earlier, I wouldn’t have even spent energy on considering them as partners. Then again, I’ve changed a lot recently so now is probably the perfect time to dream up this marvellous man menu.

Of course, I know that men are humans too. Everybody has flaws and weaknesses. And a wonderful part of being in a relationship is loving somebody unconditionally. But there are certain characteristics on my list that are essential for me. 

I want my man to have a zest for life, an open mind and a good sense of humour. He is attractive, loving, strong and affectionate. He’s intelligent, respectful, honest and trustworthy. And he’s a good communicator. I’m not asking for much, am I?

Interestingly, my list got me wondering if I possess all of the qualities I’m looking for in somebody else. It turns out, I have most of them. But it’s made me aware that there are a few areas that I need to work on. So I will.

If you’re single and hoping to meet a special someone, why not make a list describing your perfect partner? What are your non-negotiables? Be clear about what you’re looking for so you’ll know it when you see it.

Let’s put it out there and see what manifests…

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I’m Always Here

Mindfulness is a buzz word of the moment. And being present is a recurring theme in my blog posts.

Yesterday however, I realised that there’s an element of resistance in the way I’ve been practising mindfulness. I’ve been using my version of mindfulness to criticise myself and block self-expression.

Living in the now is being present to experience life as it happens. It’s not about dredging up the past or catapulting into the future. It also isn’t about trying to change how things are. Mindfulness means nonresistance.

Mindfulness has certainly enriched my experience of life. It has enabled peace of mind and improved my sleep. And it’s giving me a deeper appreciation of myself, other people and the world around me.

I’ve also become pretty adept at catching myself as I catastrophise a situation. When I worry about what could possibly go wrong, I can quickly bring myself back to the present moment and know that, right now, I’m okay. This potential future I’ve spun dangerously into doesn’t even exist. All that exists is this moment.

Recently however, I’ve been a little hard on myself when I find myself in my head. Get out of there Sharon, I shout. As if my head isn’t part of me.

When I feel excited about something, I immediately shut off that excitement. I tell myself that I’m silly for fantasising. I insist on being present. There’s no place for dreams Sharon, I scold. There is only now.

I convince myself that hope is a dirty word. Where there’s hope, disappointment will follow. 

It’s as if Eckhart Tolle has infiltrated my inner voice and I can hear his disapproval every time I slip into expectation or attachment. Of course, there’s massive wisdom in Eckhart Tolle’s teachings. And mindfulness is a wonderful practise. But what’s important is how we internalise these concepts.

Yesterday, I complained to my Life Coach that I’m not being present when I fancy a guy. I described being alone in my room thinking of a man I like.

The Life Coach asks me what that feels like. “It’s nice,” I answer. “I feel excited. But then, if things don’t work out the way I’d hoped, I feel so disappointed. I’m not being present.” I frown.

“Are you not being present?” he wonders.

Suddenly, I realise that I am being present. I’m actually always present. I’m always here.

I’m aware of myself as I fantasise. I’m aware as I attach hope to someone or something. I’m the witness, the consciousness, that’s observing everything, all of the time.

When I feel disappointed or excited, in love or anxious, it doesn’t mean I’ve taken a step back spiritually. It just means that I’m human. I’m experiencing and learning.

Being present doesn’t eradicate emotion. Mindfulness doesn’t obliterate thought.

I can be present in my hope and disappointment. I can think thoughts and I can watch myself as I think them. I can allow the inner child to play and get excited. And I can open up to love instead of closing myself off for fear of losing myself.

Mindfulness isn’t about being perfect and feeling zen all the time. It’s about being present to everything exactly as it is. It’s about observing and accepting.

With this new understanding, I feel relieved. I feel looser. I give myself permission to be a human being with wants, needs and desires. I allow myself to feel, to play and to love.

This frees me up to recognise myself as something bigger also. The witness who sees everything and doesn’t judge or criticise. And so I can allow all that is and be as I am.

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meditationandmindfulnessforchildren.blogspot.ie

To Let It Be

I turned to my friend and announced: “Resistance is what causes most of our suffering.”

This was off the back of a weekend spent in bed, sick and alone, while the sun shone, radio DJs played dance music to prepare us all for a fun Saturday night out, and my Facebook friends posted pictures of forest walks and ice creams in Dun Laoghaire.

I knew I was feeling sorry for myself. And I knew I had a lot to be thankful for. I wasn’t battling cancer. I hadn’t lost my home to a hurricane. And I wasn’t counting pennies to see if I’d be able to put food on the table.

But I was sick. And the weekend blazed sunnily through the windows. And there were no more dark chocolate covered rice cakes in the house.

And I was face-slappingly, heartbreakingly alone.

The thing is, I could have asked for help. In fact, one friend asked me if I needed anything. I replied honestly that I didn’t. There was nothing that I needed. And I didn’t want anyone to have to cancel their plans for me. I wanted people to be with me because they wanted to be there.

So I spent two days at home alone. Between sleeping, blowing my nose and weeping over my aloneness, I delved into Cheryl Strayed’s wonderful book Wild.

Cheryl had gone through some really tough times. Her father was abusive and her mother died of cancer. After Cheryl’s marriage broke down due to her infidelities and use of heroin, Cheryl took on an extraordinary journey in order to become the woman her mother saw in her. Cheryl hiked over a thousand miles alone on the epic Pacific Crest Trail.

“I felt more alone than anyone in the whole wide world,” Cheryl admitted. Later, she reasoned: “Maybe I was more alone than anyone in the whole wide world. Maybe that was okay.”

I lay in bed reading but it felt like I joined Cheryl as she sweated up mountains, grew blisters, lost toenails, and crossed paths with deer, bears and rattlesnakes. I walked alongside her as she raged into the wilderness, carrying a giant rucksack which she aptly named Monster. 

Before Cheryl set off on this amazing trek, somebody told her that the father’s job is to teach his children how to be warriors, “to give them the confidence to get on the horse and ride into battle when it’s necessary to do so.” She said that if you don’t get that from your father, you have to teach yourself. This woman predicted:

“There will come a time when you’ll need to get on your horse and ride into battle and you’re going to hesitate. You’re going to falter. To heal the wound your father made, you’re going to have to get on that horse and ride into battle like a warrior.”

I could relate to the burden Cheryl bent beneath. As she emptied a lifetime of sadness and anger into the wild, I too allowed myself to heal and release. And when Cheryl didn’t think she could go any further, I championed her as she walked on anyway. Her strength and determination humbled me as she completed a miraculous journey back to self. Cheryl finished her memoir with the words:

“How wild it was, to let it be.”

How wild it would be, to let everything be as it is. Without trying to change it. Without resisting what is. Without wishing things were different. Without wondering and worrying, regretting and replaying.

So this evening, I turned to my friend and said:

“Resistance is what causes most of our suffering.” 

And she retorted:

“Thinking is what causes most of our suffering.”

She went on to describe her morning. How she had spent time sweeping up leaves. My friend, like all of us, has plenty to think about, but she didn’t think. She swept.

She watched the leaves swirling in the wind. She felt the brush in her hands. And she listened to the sound of the bristles as she swept.

Tonight in bed, I notice that I am curled up tight, thinking. It hits me that I’ve probably spent most of my life thinking. Not living. Not experiencing. Not being. I’ve spent most of my life in my head. Thinking.

This is my life, I realise. And I want to be present to it. So I resolve to climb out of my head and into my heart. To be in my body. To feel. To experience. To live. To be present. To be open. To simply be.

A vision of my friend sweeping leaves floats into my consciousness. I relax into the bed. I can almost hear the bristles flicking onto the pathway, as the leaves dance in disobedience.

How wild it would be, to let it be.

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The Fear

One of the biggest things I’ve struggled with over my lifetime is fear. Over the past few days, I’ve examined this fear and I’ve discovered that it has many, many layers.

There is fear of making mistakes. Fear of doing it wrong. Fear of failure. Fear of getting into trouble. Fear of criticism, disapproval and rejection. Fear of my own feelings. Even fear of happiness in case it were to disappear.

Fear of not being good enough. Fear of not being talented enough, competent enough, confident enough, pretty enough, slim enough, and the list goes on…

Fear of losing hope. And fear of having hope because I’m bound to destroy it.

As I shower this morning, I realise what’s really lurking behind all this fear. It’s fear of being found out. Found out to be stupid, incapable, ugly, unlovable.

And so this fear has prevented me from going for jobs, moving abroad, writing a book, staying in relationships, opening up to friends, and telling people that I like them. In short, fear has stopped me from putting myself out there.

Once I make this discovery, I can logic it. What is it about stepping out that I’m so afraid of? That people will discover that I’m human? Scared? Imperfect?

Aren’t these the things that I love and admire in other people? Don’t we feel more connected with other human beings when we realise that we’re all the same? Real and brave and frightened?

If I can accept others for how they are, why do I resist doing the same for myself? Why are my standards and expectations for myself so ridiculously high? Is it because I don’t like myself enough or is it because I like myself so much that I want to be the best that I can be? Interesting because this desire is actually blocking me from doing just that.

Over the Christmas, I read Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles. Once I delved into the first chapter, I was hooked. Marianne speaks about being paralysed with terror. She writes:

“You’d think we have some compassion for ourselves, bound up in emotional chains the way we are, but we don’t. We’re just disgusted with ourselves, because we think we should be better by now. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking other people don’t have as much fear as we do, which only makes us more afraid. Maybe they know something we don’t know. Maybe we’re missing a chromosome.”

This really resonated with me. I forget that other people feel fear too. Everybody does. We just don’t hear about it all that much. We think that other people just get on with it. They do and they grow and they succeed.

And I compare myself unfavourably with the whole human race. I neglect to focus on my own courage and achievements, which are many.

I dismiss my own journey and instead listen to the family members and neighbours as they comment on So-and-so’s flourishing business and Thingymajig’s promotion and new home and Yer-one-down-the-road’s wonderful partner and family.

“They’re doing so well”, they gush. And I hate myself a little more. I see other people’s highlight reels on Facebook and I wince in self-judgement.

Last night, I lay in bed reading Oprah Winfrey’s lovely book What I Know For Sure when I had an Aha moment. Oprah speaks about her fear of seeming arrogant. She writes:

“In some ways, even my weight was my apology to the world – my way of saying, ‘See, I really don’t think I’m better than you.'”

When I was younger, I was teased for being “posh” and using big words. I was also teased for having a rather large bosom for a 13-year-old. And I was beaten up because a girl’s boyfriend fancied me.

After those experiences, I was careful with my language and I tried not to appear full of myself. I changed the way I behaved depending on the group of people I was with. I didn’t flirt. And I made sure not to do anything too different so that I could avoid unwanted attention.

When other people were miserable, I downplayed my contentment and instead broadcast my difficulties. You see, I’d say. I’m not a threat. So you can like me.

Now that I understand where all this fear comes from, I have a choice. I choose to no longer allow fear to immobilise me. I want to take risks and move forwards and flourish. And I understand that I do love myself. I’ve just been confused about how to show myself this love.

From now on, I’ll love myself when I have the courage to shine. I’ll love myself when I’m gasping with fear. I’ll love myself when I do. And I’ll love myself when I am.

The trick is to understand that we all feel fear. Our bravery lies in our ability to push forth anyway. In Oprah Winfrey’s words:

“Sometimes moving on terrified me. But it always taught me that the true meaning of courage is to be afraid, and then, with your knees knocking, to step out anyway.”

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Stepping into 2015

Over the past few days, there’s been a lot of talk about the coming year. I’ve been asked about my new year’s resolutions, I chose my Word for 2015 (Free), and yesterday, my friend and I played a thought-provoking game which highlighted our fears and desires.

My new year’s resolutions are to be present, to be brave, and to love. Last night in the pub, a friend asked me if I had any more concrete goals, things that I could tick off my list with satisfaction. She mentioned wanting to read and go to the theatre more. Another friend would like to participate in a project that excites her and to find a new hobby that raises her adrenaline. Somebody else listed off the countries she wants to visit.

I paused. The other evening, my mother had asked me about romantic relationships. “I have to sort my life out first mam,” I declared. It’s difficult to think about hobbies, classes, holidays and dating when I feel like I’m currently in limbo. I need to figure out my career and where I’m living.

So I’ve set up a session with a great Life Coach for next week. I finally feel ready to be completely honest about myself, and about the fears, issues, blocks and beliefs that are limiting me. It’s my life and I deserve to live it to my full potential. I want to grow and move forwards. I’m also going to exercise more.

Yesterday evening, I called over to a friend. I asked her what her Word for 2015 is. She decided on PeaceShe explained that there is no greater thing than Peace. In Peace, you are present. You can be more creative and efficient. In Peace, you break through fear. “Yes,” I say excitedly. “You can’t feel fear and Peace at the same time. What a great Word!”

Then, my friend suggested a wonderful exercise. She took out a page and divided it into 16 pieces. On each slip of paper, we wrote things like: I desire. I fear. I need. I am. 

We took turns in finishing these sentences. It was interesting to see what came up for us and how much everything overlapped. It enabled us to become really clear on what we need to focus on (and let go of) for the coming year. I realised that I have to love and accept myself no matter what.

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Many people use this time of year to reflect, plan and motivate themselves. The way things have worked in my life has been quite synchronistic. I’m starting afresh right at the beginning of a new year. I’m releasing old patterns that are no longer serving me. I’m willing to change.  And I’m open to new opportunities.

And despite the fear, negativity, confusion and over thinking that I’ve fallen into over the past month, I have also really enjoyed the holidays. And I’m so grateful for the lovely people I surround myself with.

I’ve appreciated and been present to the simple things in life like laughter, music, movies, nights out, sleeping, eating, exercising, reading, writing, being in nature, and spending time with friends and family.

The other night, I caught the end of a documentary called Unhung HeroThe documentary-maker was struggling with insecurity and he considered giving up on the film altogether. His mother gave him the following advice: “With growth there’s pain.”

I feel that I am on the cusp of something great. I’m about to take a massive leap forwards. And it’s natural to experience fear when you’re challenging yourself to step into the unknown.

And so I step into 2015, a never-before-seen year, with freedom, presence, courage, love and peace. I wish the same for all of you. Thank you for reading. You make this labour of love all the more worthwhile.

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